President Obama on Wednesday named his acting director and trusted former protective detail leader Joseph Clancy as the new permanent head of the Secret Service, choosing a longtime insider despite calls from Congress for fresh management of the agency.
But Obama’s selection has not satisfied lawmakers’ concerns that the Secret Service’s insular culture and resistance to oversight needs even deeper investigation. The first piece of mail that Clancy received Wednesday after being named director was a letter from the House Oversight Committee demanding reams of internal documents, video footage and misconduct investigations. The committee commended Clancy’s removal of top leaders but said it wants all records detailing the agency’s internal reviews and handling of all security breaches and misconduct cases, including the 2012 prostitution scandal in Colombia, a 2011 operation to divert White House agents to protect a staff member’s private home and the ability this past fall of an armed contractor to ride on an elevator with the president.
“We remain concerned, however, about the current state of the agency,” four top committee members wrote. “Our goal is to identify and address deficiencies before there is another dangerous incident.”
Clancy, 59, a 27-year veteran of the Secret Service, has been in charge for the past four months since Obama asked him to replace Director Julia Pierson, who resigned in October amid a series of major security lapses. He had emerged as the likely choice for the permanent role last week over several outside candidates.
Among the challenges for Clancy will be to determine how to secure the perimeter of the White House complex after an intruder burst past security last fall and a small drone aircraft landed on the lawn last month. The new director also will be charged with overseeing the massive security operation of protecting the candidates in the 2016 presidential race.
Clancy grew close to Obama while working as the president’s first protective-detail leader from 2009 until he retired in 2011 for a job as security director for Comcast in his home town of Philadelphia. He had never been based in the Secret Service headquarters until the president summoned him back to Washington last fall.
His selection, which does not require congressional approval, goes against the advice of an independent panel, appointed last fall by Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to examine the security failures. That panel recommended that the agency name an outsider to the top job for the first time in the Secret Service’s 150-year history.
Clancy “struck the right balance of familiarity with the Secret Service and its missions, respect from within the workforce, and a demonstrated determination to make hard choices and foster needed change,” Johnson said.
The association that represents many rank-and-file agents and officers also issued a statement supporting Clancy’s appointment.
The series of humiliating security lapses that preceded Clancy’s return included revelations of a botched Secret Service investigation of an incident in which someone fired a gun at the White House in late 2011 and that a private security officer with a concealed handgun had been on an elevator last fall with Obama, which is against the agency’s procedures.
Since taking over as acting director, Clancy has enacted major changes recommended by the outside panel. He arranged the ouster of numerous top agency leaders who had been criticized as insular and lacking a strategy to address changing threats after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Many of the people Clancy pushed out, including the influential deputy director, were his longtime co-workers, including people who once were his bosses.
“His willingness to use his credibility in the agency to implement the reforms is the best of both worlds,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Wednesday.
People familiar with the selection process said that the agency expects Clancy to serve as director through Obama’s term, which ends in January 2017, but they said he is unlikely to serve much beyond that. He will turn 60 this year, the agency’s typical retirement age.
Agents praised Clancy as a professional and compassionate supervisor, but they also complained that the recent leadership shake-up resulted in no new managers from outside the agency.
Of the seven top officials who were ousted or announced their retirement, five have been replaced — each by a longtime employee on the next rung of management who has spent at least two decades in the Secret Service.
Jonathan Wackrow, a former member of the presidential protective detail who left last year, praised Clancy as one of the kindest, most ethical people in the Secret Service, but he added: “Seeing that he has surrounded himself by people who are comfortable with the status quo, I would not look for any big things to come from this agency.
“What just happened is that the president just further institutionalized the archaic methodology of this agency.”
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said he was impressed by Clancy’s effort to answer lawmakers’ questions and promptly address security concerns. But he called the choice “disappointing” because Obama “ignored the recommendation from the independent panel” to select an outsider.
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (Md.), the congressional committee’s ranking Democrat, said Clancy had been “extremely responsive” and “his decisive leadership has already resulted in major changes.”
Joe Hagin, a deputy chief of staff under President George W. Bush and a member of the independent panel that reviewed the Secret Service last fall, called Clancy a “consummate professional” and said the most important criteria is that Obama and his family have personal trust in the director.
“He’s also been in the private sector and seen different management styles,” Hagin said of Clancy. “One reason the panel recommended an outsider is that it’s difficult to take tough action against colleagues and friends. Joe has in the last few weeks done just that. He’s taken very difficult and tough personnel decisions. That’s what they need.”
See photos at wapo.st/clancy and a video at wapo.st/clancy-video.